An Australian researcher has developed a portable tool to quickly detect pesticide residues in water bodies.
The method involves using chemiluminescence - a highly-sensitive technique that allows the detection of minute quantities of an organic compound.
"With diminishing water reserves and increasing pesticide use, our waterways are at growing risk of contamination," Dr David Beale of the RMIT University said. He is a PhD student in the School of Applied Sciences.
"Typical pesticide monitoring involves collecting samples on site then taking them back to a laboratory for analysis, a process that can take several days.
"By instantly identifying the presence of specific pesticide residues, this new method would enable water utilities to find out on the spot if a water catchment is contaminated.
"With future development, I hope the tool could enable water utilities to monitor their catchments in-situ and in real time for a variety of pesticide classes."
The method developed by Dr Beale as part of his PhD can give an on-the-spot indicative reading identifying the presence of triazines, triazinone and selected organophosphates in water samples, with confirmation performed by traditional analytical techniques in a laboratory.
Sensitive enough to detect minute traces of pesticide residues under the maximum levels set by Australian guidelines for safe drinking water, the method could be easily incorporated into a portable field instrument, which is the basis of further research at RMIT.
"I hope my work could enable water utilities to catch any contamination earlier, as well as boosting the amount of testing conducted within our water catchments," he said.
A research scientist at the CSIRO, Dr Beale said his research focus drew on a long-standing interest in water.
"For as long as I can remember, water has been an integral part of my life; my father worked as a master mariner, the family home was close to the ocean and as a teenager the ocean was my playground," he said.
"But it was not until I started university that I started to develop a greater appreciation of water as a resource and the impact humans have on its quality.
"In my undergraduate environmental science degree I was exposed to small water quality research projects.
"During my honours year, I realised the enormity of pesticide contamination in water and my attention shifted to the investigation of pesticide residue in drinking water - a topic that I continued to research during my PhD."